LATE in the afternoon the girl suggested that they start that night upon th_ourney toward her village.
“The bad men will not be abroad after dark,” she said.
“With you at my side, I shall not fear Nagoola.” “How far is it to you_illage?” asked Waldo.
“It will take us three nights,” she replied. “By day we must hide, for eve_ou could not vanquish a great number of bad men should they attack you a_nce.” “No,” said Waldo; “I presume not.” “It was very wonderful to watch you, though,” she went on, “when you battled upon the cliff-side, beating them dow_s they came upon you. How brave you were! How terrible! You trembled fro_age.” “Yes,” admitted Waldo, “I was quite angry. I always tremble like tha_hen my ire is excited. Sometimes I get so bad that my knees knock together.
If you ever see them do that you will realize how exceedingly angry I am.” “Yes,” murmured the girl.
Presently Waldo saw that she was laughing quietly to herself.
A great fear rose in his breast. Could it be that she was less gullible tha_he had appeared? Did she, after all, penetrate the bombast with which he ha_ought to cloak his cowardice?
He finally mustered sufficient courage to ask: “Why do you laugh?” “I think o_he surprise that awaits old Flatfoot and Korth and the others when I lead yo_o them.” “Why will they be surprised?” asked Waldo.
“At the way you will crack their heads.” Waldo shuddered.
“Why should I crack their heads?” he asked.
“Why should you crack their heads!” It was apparently incredible to the gir_hat he should not understand.
“How little you know,” she said. “You cannot swim, you do not know th_anguage which men may understand, you would be lost in the woods were I t_eave you, and now you say that you do not know that when you come to _trange tribe they will try to kill you, and only take you as one of them whe_ou have proven your worth by killing at least one of their strongest men.” “At least one!” said Waldo, half to himself.
He was dazed by this information. He had expected to be welcomed with ope_rms into the best society that the girl’s community afforded. He had though_f it in just this way, for he had not even yet learned that there might be _hole people living under entirely different conditions than those whic_xisted in Boston, Massachusetts.
Her reference to his ignorance also came as a distinct shock to him. He ha_lways considered himself a man of considerable learning. It had been hi_ecret boast and his mother’s open pride.
And now to be pitied for his ignorance by one who probably thought the eart_lat, if she ever thought about such matters at all — by one who could neithe_ead nor write. And the worst of it all was that her indictment was correct — only she had not gone far enough.
There was little of practical value that he did know. With the realization o_is limitations Waldo Emerson took, unknown to himself, a great stride towar_ broader wisdom than his narrow soul had ever conceived.
That night, after the sun had set and the stars and moon come out, the two se_orth from their retreat toward the northwest, where the girl said that th_illage of her people lay.
They walked hand in hand through the dark wood, the girl directing thei_teps, the young man grasping his long cudgel in his right hand and searchin_nto the shadows for the terrible creatures conjured by his cowardly brain, but mostly for the two awesome spots of fire which he had gathered from th_irl’s talk would mark the presence of Nagoola.
Strange noises assailed his ears, and once the girl crouched close to him a_er quick ears caught the sound of the movement of a great body through th_nderbrush at their left.
Waldo Emerson was almost paralyzed by terror; but at length the creature, whatever it may have been, turned off into the forest without molesting them.
For several hours thereafter they suffered no alarm, but the constant tensio_f apprehension on the man’s already over-wrought nerves had reduced him to _tate of such abject nervous terror that he was no longer master of himself.
So it was that when the girl suddenly halted him with an affrighted littl_asp and, pointing straight ahead, whispered, “Nagoola,” he went momentaril_ad with fear.
For a bare instant he paused in his tracks, and then breaking away from her, he raised his club above his head, and with an awful shriek dashed straigh_oward the panther.
In the minds of some there may be a doubt as to which of the two — the sleek, silent, black cat or the grinning, screaming Waldo — was the most awe- inspiring.
Be that as it may, it was quite evident that no doubt assailed the mind of th_at, for with a single answering scream, he turned and faded into th_lackness of the black night.
But Waldo did not see him go. Still shrieking, he raced on through the fores_ntil he tripped over a creeper and fell exhausted to the earth. There he la_anting, twitching, and trembling until the girl found him, an hour afte_unrise.
At the sound of her voice he would have struggled to his feet and dashed o_nto the woods, for he felt that he could never face her again after th_pectacle of cowardice with which he had treated her a few hours before.
But even as he gained his feet her first words reaasured him, and dissipate_very vestige of his intention to elude her.
“Did you catch him?” she cried.
“No,” panted Waldo Emerson quite truthfully. “He got away.” They rested _ittle while, and then Waldo insisted that they resume their journey by da_nstead of by night. He had positively determined that he never should o_ould endure another such a night of mental torture. He would much rather tak_he chance of meeting with the bad men than suffer the constant feeling tha_nseen enemies were peering out of the darkness at him every moment.
In the day they would at least have the advantage of seeing their foes befor_hey were struck. He did not give these reasons to the girl, however. Unde_he circumstances he felt that another explanation would be better adapted t_er ears.
“You see,” he said, “if it hadn’t been so dark Nagoola might not have escape_e. It is too bad — too bad.” “Yes,” agreed the girl, “it is too bad. We shal_ravel by day.
It will be safe now. We have left the country of the bad men, and there ar_ew men living between us and my people.” That night they spent in a cave the_ound in the steep bank of a small river.
It was damp and muddy and cold, but they were both very tired, and so the_ell asleep and slept as soundly as though the best of mattresses lay beneat_hem. The girl probably slept better, since she had never been accustomed t_nything much superior to this in all her life.
The journey required five days, instead of three, and during all the tim_aldo was learning, more and more woodcraft from the girl. At first hi_ttitude had been such that he could profit but little from her greate_ractical knowledge, for he had been inclined to look down upon her as a_ntutored savage.
Now, however, he was a willing student, and when Waldo Emerson elected t_tudy there was nothing that he could not master and retain in a remarkabl_anner. He had a well-trained mind — the principal trouble with it being tha_t had been crammed full of useless knowledge. His mother had always made th_rror of confusing knowledge with wisdom.
Waldo was not the only one to learn new things upon this journey. The gir_earned something, too — something which had been threatening for days to ris_bove the threshold of her conscious mind, and now she realized that it ha_ain in her heart almost ever since the first moment that she had been wit_his strange young man.
Waldo Emerson had been endowed by nature with a chivalrous heart, and hi_raining had been such that he mechanically accorded to all women the gallan_ittle courtesies and consideration which are of the fine things that go wit_reeding. Nor was he one whit less punctilious in his relations with this wil_ave girl than he would have been with the daughter of the finest family o_is own aristocracy.
He had been kind and thoughtful and sympathetic always, and to the girl, wh_ad never been accustomed to such treatment from men, nor had ever seen a ma_ccord it to any woman, it seemed little short of miraculous that such gentl_enderness could belong to a nature so warlike and ferocious as that wit_hich she had endowed Waldo Emerson. But she was quite satisfied that i_hould be so.
She would not have cared for him had he been gentle with her, yet cowardly.
Had she dreamed of the real truth — had she had the slightest suspicion tha_aldo Emerson was at heart the most arrant poltroon upon whom the sun had eve_hone, she would have loathed and hated him, for in the primitive code o_thics which governed the savage community which was her world there was n_lace for the craven or the weakling — and Waldo Emerson was both.
As the realization of her growing sentiment toward the man awakened, i_mparted to her ways with him a sudden coyness and maidenly aloofness whic_ad been entirely wanting before. Until then their companionship, in so far a_he girl was concerned, had been rather that of one youth toward another; bu_ow that she found herself thrilling at his slightest careless touch, sh_ecame aware of a paradoxical impulse to avoid him.
For the first time in her life, too, she realized her nakedness, and wa_shamed. Possibly this was due to the fact that Waldo appeared so solicitou_n endeavoring to coerce his rags into the impossible feat of entirel_overing his body.
As they neared their journey’s end Waldo became more and more perturbed.
During the last night horrible visions of Flatfoot and Korth haunted hi_reams. He saw the great, hairy beasts rushing upon him in all the ferocity o_heir primeval savagery — tearing him limb from limb in their bestial rage.
With a shriek he awoke.
To the girl’s startled inquiry he replied that he had been but dreaming.
“Did you dream of Flatfoot and Korth?” she laughed. “Of the things that yo_ill do to them tomorrow?” “Yes,” replied Waldo; “I dreamed of Flatfoot an_orth.” But the girl did not see how he trembled and hid his head in th_ollow of his arm.
The last day’s march was the most agonizing experience of Waldo Emerson’_ife. He was positive that he was going to his death, but to him the horror o_he thing lay more in the manner of his coming death than in the thought o_eath itself. As a matter of fact, he had again reached a point when he woul_ave welcomed death.
The future held for him nothing but a life of discomfort and misery an_onstant mental anguish, superinduced by the condition of awful fear unde_hich he must drag out his existence in this strange and terrible land.
Waldo had not the slightest conception as to whether he was upon some mainlan_r an unknown island. That the tidal wave had come upon them somewhere in th_outh Pacific was all that he knew; but long since he had given up hope tha_uccor would reach him in time to prevent him perishing miserably far from hi_ome and his poor mother.
He could not dwell long upon this dismal theme, because it always brough_ears of self-pity to his eyes, and for some unaccountable reason Waldo shrun_rom the thought of exhibiting this unmanly weakness before the girl.
All day long he racked his brain for some valid excuse whereby he migh_ersuade his companion to lead him elsewhere than to her village. A thousan_imes better would be some secluded little garden such as that which ha_arbored them for the ten days following their escape from the cave men.
If they could but come upon such a place near the coast, where Waldo coul_eep a constant watch for passing vessel, he would have been as happy as h_ver expected it would be possible for him in such a savage land.
He wanted the girl with him for companionship; he was more afraid when he wa_lone. Of course, he realized that size was no fit companion for a man of hi_ental attainments; but then she was a human being, and her society muc_etter than none at all. While hope had still lingered that he might live t_scape and return to his beloved Boston, he had often wondered whether h_ould dare tell his mother of his unconventional acquaintance with this youn_oman.
Of course, it would be out of the question for him to go at all into details.
He would not, for example, dare to attempt a description of her toilet to hi_rim parent.
The fact that they had been alone together, day and night, for weeks wa_nother item which troubled Waldo considerably.
He knew that the shock of such information might prostrate his mother, and fo_ long time he debated the wisdom of omitting any mention of the gir_hatever.
At length he decided that a little, white lie would be permissible, inasmuc_s his mother’s health and the girl’s reputation were both at stake. So he ha_ecided to mention that the girl’s aunt had been with them in the capacity o_haperon; that fixed it nicely, and on this point Waldo’s mind was more a_ase.
Late in the afternoon they wound down a narrow trail that led from the platea_nto a narrow, beautiful valley. A tree-bordered river meandered through th_enter of the level plain that formed the valley’s floor, while beyond ros_recipitous cliffs, which trailed off in either direction as far as the ey_ould reach.
“There live my people,” said the girl, pointing toward the distant barrier.
Waldo groaned inwardly.
“Let us rest here,” he said, “until tomorrow, that we may come to your hom_ested and refreshed.” “Oh, no,” cried the girl; “we can reach the cave_efore dark.
I can scarcely wait until I shall have seen how you shall slay Flatfoot, an_aybe Korth also. Though I think that after one of them has felt your migh_he others will be glad to take you into the tribe at the price of you_riendship.” “Is there not some way,” ventured the distracted Waldo, “that _ay come into your village without fighting? I should dislike to kill one o_our friends,” said Waldo solemnly.
The girl laughed.
“Neither Flatfoot nor Korth are friends of mine,” she replied; “I hate the_oth. They are terrible men. It would be better for all the tribe were the_illed. They are so strong and cruel that we all hate them, since they us_heir strength to abuse those who are weaker.
“They make us all work very hard for them. They take other men’s mates, and i_he other men object they kill them. There is scarcely a moon passes that doe_ot see either Korth or Flatfoot kill some one.
“Nor is it always men they kill. Often when they are angry they kill women an_ittle children just for the pleasure of killing; but when you come among u_here will be no more of that, for you will kill them both if they be no_ood.” Waldo was too horrified by this description of his soon-to-b_ntagonists to make any reply — his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth — all his vocal organs seemed paralyzed.
But the girl did not notice. She went on joyously, ripping Waldo’s nervou_ystem out of him and tearing it into shreds.
“You see,” she continued, “Flatfoot and Korth are greater than the other me_f my tribe. They can do as they will. They are frightful to look upon, and _ave often thought that the hearts of others dried up when they saw either o_hem coming for them.
“And they are so strong! I have seen Korth crush the skull of a full-grown ma_ith a single blow from his open palm; while one of Flatfoot’s amusements i_he breaking of men’s arms and legs with his bare hands.”
They had entered the valley now, and in silence they continued on toward th_ringe of trees which grew beside the little river.
Nadara led the way toward a ford, which they quickly crossed. All the wa_cross the valley Waldo had been searching for some avenue of escape.
He dared not enter that awful village and face those terrible men, and he wa_lmost equally averse to admitting to the girl that he was afraid.
He would gladly have died to have escaped either alternative, but he preferre_o choose the manner of his death.
The thought of entering the village and meeting a horrible end at the hands o_he brutes who awaited him there and of being compelled to demonstrate befor_he girl’s eyes that he was neither a mighty fighter nor a hero was more tha_e could endure.
Occupied with these harrowing speculations, Waldo and Nadara came to th_arther side of the forest, whence they could see the towering cliffs risin_teeply from the valley’s bed, three hundred yards away.
Along their face and at their feet Waldo descried a host of half-naked men, women, and children moving about in the consummation of their various duties.
Involuntarily he halted.
The girl came to his side. Together they looked out upon the scene, the lik_f which Waldo Emerson never before had seen.
It was as though he had been suddenly snatched back through countless ages t_ long-dead past and dropped into the midst of the prehistoric life of hi_aleolithic progenitors.
Upon the narrow ledges before their caves, women, with long, flowing hair, ground food in rude stone mortars.
Naked children played about them, perilously close to the precipitous clif_dge.
Hairy men squatted, gorillalike, before pieces of flat stone, upon which gree_ides were stretched, while they scraped, scraped, scraped with the sharp edg_f smaller bits of stone.
There was no laughter and no song.
Occasionally Waldo saw one of the fierce creatures address another, an_ometimes one would raise his thick lips in a nasty snarl that exposed hi_ighting fangs; but they were too far away for their words to reach the youn_an.